All sewn up! Getting a flat seam in knitwear

When I first started creating knitted textiles, one of my least favourite parts of the process was the construction and finishing off of an item. I'd tried hand sewing - it took far too long and I was never satisfied with the results (my hand sewing isn't the neatest!) I'd tried picking up and knitting a row and then binding off on the knitting machine - again, a long and laborious procedure that produced a bulky and tight, inflexible seam that was prone to 'fluting'. I used a linking machine, good, but a bit cumbersome, fiddly (especially with darker colours) and it really hurt my fingers putting the seams on to the sharp pin like needles! I then tried sewing on a sewing machine. After several attempts I managed to produce an acceptable seem, particularly with a small zigzag stitch. I like to butt the edges together and then using a matching thread, zigzag over the join creating a lovely flat edge as shown below:

Fig 1 
Fig 2
Fig 3

Using a wide enough zigzag stitch, butt the two seam edges together (Fig 1), being careful to match them carefully so as not to leave gaps (Fig 2). Once pressed and set, the seam is virtually invisible on both sides of the garment (Fig 3)

An overlocked seam worked well too, but I didn't really like the bulk it gave particularly on ribbed bands. However, my overlock machine does 3 or 4 thread coverstitch that doesn't use the cutting blade, (typically seen on t-shirt hems: on the right side it shows as two lines of topstitching, on the underside a flat zigzag style stitch), and this gave a lovely flat seam. It does have its limitations though - the edges of each piece need to be kept aligned carefully so as not to feed unevenly. Also, because the coverstitch is created with (at least) 3 threads, the way they lock together isn't as stable as a zigzag sewing machine stitch, as the two top threads lay each side of the seam and only the underside looper thread holds them together. But using this method along with the aforementioned zigzag sewing stitch creates a lovely stable and decorative seam when using the reverse looper side of the coverstitch.

Whichever method you choose to use, do test it out on your tension swatch sample and make sure the seam allowance is nice and flat - give the pattern pieces a good press, particularly on a stitch pattern/yarn type that is prone to curling at the edges. I like to use a ribbed or garter stitch edge on garments, throws and blankets as they also help stop the edges from curling up. Once you have attached edges and finished your seams, give a final steam press to set them.

Fig 4 
Fig 5
Fig 6

A small zigzag stitch on the sewing machine in matching thread allows a lovely flat seam. This is the right side of the garment (Fig 4) but it will look the same on the other side too. Butt the two seam edges together and allow the needle to hit each edge alternately. Feed both sides evenly, taking it slowly so as not to leave gaps . It also works really well on ribbed bands, stopping the curl that can occur on stocking stitch fabric, (Fig 5). Attaching pieces in this manner is virtually invisible (Fig 6)

Fig 7 
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Fig 9

Using my overlocker, I set it up for coverstitch and use the centre needle to follow the seam line keeping it nice and straight (Fig 7). The wrong side of the fabric shows little difference to the standard zigzag seam, just 3 rows of straight stitching, (Fig 8) The right side of the seam shows the contrast overlock coverstitch, adds to the design detail, and hides the zigzag stitching. I have used a fancy floss thread to emphasise it, (Fig 9). And here are the finished garments - a cardigan jacket and a longline sweater.

Here are a few more examples using the small zigzag stitch technique: a matching thread used to attach a narrow ribbed edge is nearly invisible, (Fig 10); to sew the reverse colour panels together on a jacquard throw, (Fig 11) - these double bed knit fabrics lie nice flat so they are easier to match; and finally a contrast colour coverstitch adds a fun element to this muted throw, (Fig 12) A further line of machine embroidered stitching in a second colour adds zing!

Fig 10 
Fig 11
Fig 12

I hope this little tutorial gives you ideas to try out - let me know how you get on! Till next time

Blankets and throws are available from my website here or from my Etsy shop: Anthony French Home. Or Contact me if you would like to discuss made to order knitwear .


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